I am a big fan of music. I consider myself a frustrated musician, which, as bad as it sounds, seems better than being a struggling musician (I trust all the women who have dated one will understand what I mean…). Sometimes I still play my ‘air-drums’, an imaginary set of drums where I ‘follow’ the percussion of whatever my ipod is playing – people freak out when they see me on the train! And yes, when I was little I did build a drumset out of pots and pans driving my mum to insanity as she begged for silence. She is my biggest critic. Phrases such as ‘How can you listen to music all day?’ are well engraved in my memory.
Having proved that I AM a big fan of music, I’ll proceed with my story. I grew up in Peru in the 90’s and nobody went to Peru during that time. We had a sort-of-civil-war where a terrorist group named Shining Path would place car bombs all over Lima and that meant enough of a threat for any band to skip our country. And the few opportunities we Peruvians had had of seing any ‘big’ artist often resulted in mischance. I remember when my dad told me he had tickets to see Santana in Lima back in 1971 at the peak of his popularity, having just recently played Woodstock. At the time we had a military leftist government (you thought you’d heard it all ah!), and General Velasco, who led the Revolutionary Government, forbid Santana to play in Peru calling him an ‘imperialist hippie’. Poor Santana, I don’t think he saw much of Lima other than the airport. Luckily he came back in 2006 to close open wounds.
The first big band I remember that came to Peru was pop duo Roxette, back in 1993. I was a fan of Roxette at the time and I was mad that my mum had decided we had to move to Mexico just a couple months before their concert in Lima. Some of my friends did go and said it was great. On the flipside, Mexico had become a must for bands to tour, so I finally found a place where I could go to live concerts. But I didn’t. Not the massive ones at least. Several friends were starting in music at the time; I remember everyone wanted to play guitar, there was a lack of bass and drum players. Some of these friends formed bands and I used to go watch them play. The circuit for school and local bands was quite healthy in Mexico back then. There was a rebirth of rock in Spanish and a lot of creativity around; it was a great time to go to gigs. When I moved to Mexico City I befriended people from ‘Los Musicos de Jose’ and used to go to their gigs everytime. Those were the only gigs I could afford. My first big concert had Bush and Delinquent Habits as headliners (?!?) with a bunch of Mexican bands at Palacio de los Deportes. I saw Jamiroquai at Auditorio Nacional ’cause my then girlfriend had been given tickets. But I always missed the biggest ones: Rolling Stones, U2, Rage Against The Machine, McCartney, etc.
While living in the US my biggest problem was not having a car, since public transport is non-existent and I was living in the suburbs of Cincinatti. There, I missed more bands. I must hold the record for having missed the same artist over and over again. That’s Manu Chao, a legend in Latin countries, whom I have missed in Lima, Mexico City, Barcelona, LA and Sydney by a matter of weeks.
Now that I live in Australia I am starting to taste the joy of gigs and concerts. This last month I have been to two: Yann Tiersen and Mark Lanegan. The first is the composer of the music for the French film Amelie, which I love. I showed the movie to Mel and she really liked it too. I thought it’d be a great idea to listen to him live so I got us tickets. The venue was the Melbourne Recital Centre, a beautiful wooden concert hall ideal for small orchestras and classical music, and since the concert was being promoted as ‘the composer of Amelie’ I thought that he would play some of those songs. But I was wrong. Yann Tiersen has a big repertoire and he was travelling with a new album under his wing so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he played none of the songs that brought him international attention. Not only that, but he was far from THAT kind of music. He played some violin but most songs were rock with synthetisers and a full band accompanying him. It was very good, but I am sure it caught more than one audience member surprised.
Mark Lanegan was another story. I heard his last record and loved it inmediately. I bought tickets to his concert on my own. I had come to The Forum just weeks before to see Mark Watson’s comedy stand-up show as part of the Comedy Festival, but the hall was different. While outside The Forum looks like an arabesque architecture building, inside it’s all red carpeted and decored with Greek imitation statues and the ceiling lights are bright blue as if it was night. With this description you might be thinking ‘What a horrible combination!’ and you could be right, it’s a daring combination but it doesn’t reach a kitsch or bad taste level. Either that or the love that locals have for The Forum lead me to believe that.
The friend of a friend, Tom, was going too so we ended up going for a couple pints before the concert. There we ran into another friend of his. All together headed to The Forum, an old cinema dating back from the 1920’s. Back then it was the largest cinema in all of Australia. Today it was the perfect spot to see Lanegan: not a very large venue with capacity for maybe a couple thousand, some tables at the back and standing room right in front of the stage. Two bars on the sides and one more upstairs keep the thirsty ones apeased.
While discussing how to get through the crowd Tom’s friend decided she knew how to do it without the need of pushing or squeezing amongst the crowd. Turned out she found a perfect spot, we were not only 3 metres from Mark Lanegan but at the best angle and right next to the speakers. When ‘The Gravediggers Song’ started I trembled in surprise. It was not just loud, but fucking awesome sound!
But it was going to take more than fucking awesome sound to get the aussie crowd moving. In the words of my friend Julio, who went to see Manu Chao in Sydney just recently, Manu had to play his fastest ska to get some nodding from the crowd. Tom told me that Melbourne audiences are demanding, probably because this is the capital of music in the country. Certainly the range of music on offer is astounding. If I could I would have spent all my money on going to gigs this summer! The Pogues, Elbow, Electrelane, Radiohead, Prince, Soundgarden…
When I went to see Portishead and The National at the Harvest Festival last year it was my first taste of that attitude. It was Portishead’s first Australian gig in 10 years or so, and I am aware that their music is not precisely dancing music but rather hypnotic, yet the crowd, though cheerful, remained rather quiet, something to which I am not quite used to. Later I read in a magazine that for that critic it had been the best gig of the year in Melbourne. I guess I need to see what a bad gig is like to compare. Mel tells me that another feature of gigs here is the ‘Circle of Death’ that sometimes exists between a (usually unknown) band and the first people of the crowd: nobody wants to be in the front.
I think now I begin to understand why so many bands speak of the ‘warmth’ of Latin audiences. When I went to see James or The Killers back in Lima I couldn’t stop dancing and jumping, whether it was the excitement to see a ‘big’ band or the effect of the music itself. When I went to see Calle 13, a Puerto Rican hip hop band, it was a massive party!
Can’t have it all I guess. Meanwhile I am planning my next gig, maybe The Black Keys, maybe The Shins, whose last album is going straight to my favourites of the year so far. Perhaps Jack White and hope he plays some White Stripes while he is at it. But definitely I will go and see the band of my work mate Will – Big Words. They play hip hop and he says they are pretty good. I’m sure there won’t be a ‘circle of death’ there!